In America, every year, on the second Monday in October, Native American Day honors the cultures and contributions of the many Native American tribes.
A month-long celebration of Native American heritage is celebrated in November. Similar to Black History Month, which honors the efforts of Black people, this is a celebration of the beauty of Indigenous cultures. In memory of the horror of past and current mistreatment of Native communities which continue to struggle for recognition, equality, and peace.
People celebrate this day and month by visiting museums, attending performances or rallies, donating to Native-owned businesses and charities, and reading Native American authors.
You can learn a great deal about Native American heritage through this comprehensive article.
8 Interesting Facts About Native American Day/Month
US Census Bureau figures show there are approximately 324 American Indian reservations and 574 recognized tribes in the United States, all of which have survived centuries of genocide and displacement to flourish today.
Discover the early advocates for establishing a Native American heritage day, how they helped tremendously during World War I and World War II, their influence on hockey, and so much more.
Here is a list of interesting facts you should know to understand the Native American Heritage Day and Month.
1. The idea was proposed in the early 20th century
Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, a Seneca archaeologist, historian, and director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences in New York, was one of the earliest advocates for Native American rights. He co-founded the Society of American Indians in 1911 to advocate for Native Americans to be granted U.S. citizenship. He also successfully pushed the Boy Scouts to hold a “First Americans Day” from 1912 to 1915.
To build on this success, in 1914, Red Fox Skiukusha, a Blackfeet Nation member, rode 4000 miles from Montana to Washington, D.C., to petition for Indian Day. He spent the next year traveling to assemble governors’ signatures in support of recognizing Native Americans as citizens. Later, in 1924, the first Native Americans were granted citizenship.
Native Americans were able to vote starting in 1924, but many state laws prevented them from voting. After 1924, it took all 50 states over 40 years to allow Native Americans to vote.
2. Each state enacted its own Native American Heritage Celebrations
Throughout the 1900s, official celebrations of Native American heritage began with one day, one week, and later one-month celebrations. The Native American history movement gained national prominence in the 1970s when several states enacted their own celebrations of Native American history in September.
The United States Congress passed Senate Joint Resolution 209 in 1976 allowing President Gerald R. Ford to declare October 10 to 16 as Native American Awareness Week. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared May 13 “American Indian Day,” and in 1986 he declared “Native American Week,” which also acknowledged European colonizers’ genocide of Native Americans. It continued each year until 1989.
3. An opportunity to study Indigenous history
The history of Native Americans is preserved in government archives, ancestral sites, museums, and by the people. Culturally significant sites managed by the National Park Service include Alabama’s Russell Cave, which has been inhabited for 10,000 years; and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which traces the migration of tribes forcibly removed from their Southeast U.S. homelands between 1838 and 1839.
Also, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian preserves Indigenous crafts and lifeways in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
4. George H.W. Bush proclaimed November for Native American heritage celebrations
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November the “National American Indian Heritage Month”. This has continued each year under subsequent presidents. In 2009, the title of the celebration was changed from “National Native American Heritage Month.”
As the name has evolved through the years, some have proposed including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians in the official designation as well.
5. Native Americans still experience huge economic obstacles
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health data, American Indian and Alaska Native households earn $45,448 compared to $65,845 for non-Hispanic white households. Also, 21.9 percent of this racial group live below the poverty line, compared to 9.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
6. Native American’s contribution to World War I and II
The Navajo soldiers, who are Native Americans, played an important role as code talkers during both World Wars I and II.
In 2002, Congress acknowledged and celebrated the efforts of these brave soldiers, saying: at a time when Indians were discouraged from practicing their native cultures, a few brave men used their language, culture, and heritage to change the course of history.
7. Hockey originated from Native American tribes
It is believed that hockey originated with the Saux, Foxes, and Assiniboine tribes, who played a game called “shinny,” a ball game played on a field and in winter on the ice, using a curved stick.
8. Native American Heritage Month celebrations
The celebration of Native American Heritage Month varies across the country. The Rock Your Mocs event, first hosted in 2010, invites Native Americans to wear moccasins to work or school to honor their cultures.
On Red Shawl Day, others wear red to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women. Several people attend the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the place where English settlers arrived in 1620.
Hashtags and social media posts are used to spread awareness.
Since its founding more than a century ago, Native American Heritage Month has become a celebration of cultures and history, as well as an honoring of Indigenous rights.
Each year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sets the tone for the celebration. There is normally a distinct theme to mark these celebrations and a call to action for the well-being of indigenous communities.